Criminology outstanding grad has her 'aha' moment on visit to Arizona prison

May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Genevieve McKenzie remembers the spring of her freshman year, when she questioned whether she made the right decision to major in criminology and criminal justice. ASU grad Genevieve McKenzie School of Criminology and Criminal Justice outstanding graduate Genevieve McKenzie advises students that you get out of your college experience what you put into it. "It is easy to drift through your time in college just doing the bare essentials to pass classes and graduate. It is harder to really be present in your classes and engage with the material, but it truly does pay off. When I started to apply what I was learning in the classroom to the outside world ... I started seeing connections everywhere." Download Full Image

But even more vivid in her memory is the day those doubts disappeared. It was the day she sat face-to-face in an Arizona prison with an incarcerated man dressed in an orange jumpsuit.

Both were members of a class that combines ASU students with an equal number of incarcerated men through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

“I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I do remember that being the moment when everything clicked for me,” McKenzie said. “All of a sudden, the people that I had been reading about in textbooks (each) had a face, a name, and I could see the real impact that what I was studying could have. Khan may not know it, but he is one of the biggest reasons that I am here today.” 

In fact, the spring 2020 outstanding graduate of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice said her favorite place to think about life is a barren stretch of highway between Phoenix and the Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence.

“Over the past four years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time driving to and from the prison in Florence for class, research, work and volunteer work. I had some of the best conversations with colleagues or classmates in the car after a long day at the prison,” said the Snohomish, Washington, resident. “It took me a while to adjust to the desert landscape after moving from somewhere that it rains 85% of the time, but I grew to love the dramatic sunsets behind cacti as I drove along that highway, lost in deep thoughts.”

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: One of the most notable things that surprised me to learn while at ASU is something that I’m still learning to this day: Being productive and successful is about more than just hard work. Being productive requires time off, sleep and taking care of yourself just as much as it requires hard work. I spent many semesters working myself to the bone because I thought that I would be successful if I just worked hard enough. It is only recently, with the help and guidance of some incredible mentors, that I realized I am able to do more when I’m doing less. When I take on too many responsibilities, I do not adequately take care of myself and end up burning out quickly. As a result of the burnout, the quality of my work suffers. When I prioritize taking care of myself, I am better able to focus and dedicate energy to doing things well.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I initially chose to come to ASU because I was impressed by the quality of the criminology and criminal justice program, which I intended to study. I actually committed to ASU solely because of this; I never set foot in Arizona until my orientation, three months before my first semester. The endless opportunities and resources that I was able to take advantage of are why I stayed and continued to choose ASU, though. There were a few times that I seriously considered transferring and pursuing a different career, but I ultimately chose ASU time and time again because of the community I had found and the unique opportunities that I would not have found elsewhere. I felt that I had a lot of potential for growth and ASU was the perfect place for me to take advantage of that; I was absolutely right.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Kevin Wright has, by far, been the most influential professor that I’ve met at ASU. He has taught me lessons about the value of mentorship, the power of embracing failure, and he single-handedly facilitated opportunities that pushed me to be more open-minded. One of the most powerful lessons, however, has been the importance of authenticity. I think that Dr. Wright teaches this without the intention to do so; he simply leads his life in an authentic way and inspires those around him to do the same. Dr. Wright is transparent in the way that he asserts his values and fearlessly lives up to them. He is authentic across all situations and with all audiences.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: You get out of your college experience what you put into it. It is easy to drift through your time in college just doing the bare essentials to pass classes and graduate. It is harder to really be present in your classes and engage with the material, but it truly does pay off. When I started to apply what I was learning in the classroom to the outside world and to things that were more directly applicable to my own life, I started seeing connections everywhere. My most valuable experiences in college were outside of the classroom, but they would not have been possible if I hadn’t pushed myself to get as much out of each class as possible, to venture out of my comfort zone and to get involved in different opportunities that were presented to me.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would put the money towards the coronavirus pandemic that is happening worldwide right now. Specifically, I would invest the money towards efforts coming up with a vaccine so that people can stay healthy and health care workers can recuperate from the madness of the past few weeks. This pandemic is negatively affecting mental health, financial stability, physical health and so much more for everyone. I would say that it has also opened our eyes to the importance of social, human connection, and I think that everyone is really craving to get back to that. I know I am.

Another reason, which hits closer to home, is so that graduations for high school and college seniors throughout the country can proceed as originally planned. There are very few rites of passage or cultural ceremonies in America that mark critical transitions in our lives; school graduations are one of the only ones that come to mind. To universities, a virtual graduation for one semester may just be a bump in the road that is soon forgotten about. But to thousands of graduates, the absence of a graduation in the traditional sense is a gaping hole in our transition to adulthood. This important ceremony celebrates all of our hard work and accomplishments. The alternatives, including virtual graduation and combined ceremonies in the fall, simply do not measure up.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Outstanding grad inspired to give independence to others with disabilities through recreation

May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Rachel Dora-Ann Fisher never dreamed a disability that once interrupted her academic studies would lead to a fulfilling career helping others with similar challenges. ASU grad Rachel Dora-Ann Fisher School of Community Resources and Development outstanding grad Rachel Dora-Ann Fisher's advice to other students: "Don’t let anything hold you back, whether it’s income, being first-generation, being a parent, having a disability, being from out of state or out of the country, transferring here, or just thinking you can't make change. I have helped to make change and I am an adult transfer student, first-generation, single mom, low income, from out of state, and none of those labels mattered. You are seen by your fellow students as an ASU student. This is your family!" Download Full Image

Fisher, a first-generation college student from Cicero, a Chicago suburb, is the spring 2020 outstanding graduate of the School of Community Resources and Development (SCRD).

Upon arriving in Arizona eight years ago, she found that her already low vision was decreasing severely. Fisher was unable to find a job, leading her to conclude that she couldn’t do the work she had learned how to do as a college student in Illinois.

She transitioned to the Phoenix-based Foundation for Blind Children’s vocational rehabilitation program for adults to retrain in assistive technology and skills with vision loss. She planned to get a job and applied for her first guide dog.

When a career counselor asked her about her favorite previous job, she described her work in the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.

“It was my favorite job. I got to work with others with disabilities and mainly young adults with autism. It was fulfilling work I cherished. I kept a picture of one of my students from the program,” said Fisher.

“The ‘aha’ moment was when (the career counselor) told me it was recreational therapy I was doing, and that I could go to ASU to get a degree in the field. I knew at that moment it was what I was meant to do: to help give freedom and independence to other people with disabilities through recreation.”

ASU instructors were kind and understanding regarding her disability and helped arrange accommodations for her, which was key to her being able to be successful, she said.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: I was surprised at how my professors and teachers cared about me as a person and as a student. I had a previous experience in a college in … Chicago where… (instructors told me) I would not get hired being visually impaired, and I only made it halfway through my senior year. The experience was horrific, and I thought I would never try to attend college ever again. Once the opportunity arose for me to go back to school and study recreational therapy at ASU, I was very timid and scared of what it would be like, (because) my previous teachers were not kind about my disability. The first semester here, my instructors were so kind and understanding and didn’t really see my visual impairment as a limitation to my abilities; they just saw it as the reason I needed some accommodations. I was treated like a whole person. I was so happy and surprised at how different my entire college experience has been, and their support and kindness has made me the student I am and given me the confidence to make change and be the person I want to be.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It was the absolute best school to get my recreational therapy degree and on the downtown campus. Once I visited downtown, it gave me that city feel I missed from back in Chicago, but so relaxed. I had interviewed for an essay with (SCRD faculty associate) Beth Dietrich, and loved her perspective and knew she was going to be one of my instructors. All the working professionals in my field had come from ASU, so I knew where I wanted to go!

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: There is a TED Talk where a teacher explains what a lollipop moment is. It's when you do something that greatly impacts another person’s life without even knowing it. Kelly Ramella (an SCRD associate instructional professional and program coordinator) impacted my life in the first semester at ASU.

The first time I met her face to face, I was in her online class and struggling with making it accessible. We met to discuss it near the elevators in UCENT (University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus). She looked at me and said, “We are going to figure out how to make you the best recreational therapist with your disability.”

It was the first time I had ever in my life had a teacher tell me that my disability could make me better in my field, that it could work for me and not against me. Over the past two years, she has continued to do just that and show me so many ways to be who I am: a recreational therapist who happens to also be visually impaired.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: To get involved, don’t sit back, make this the college experience you have always wanted. I can say in my experiences here at ASU in student organizations, student leadership positions, working on campus, and in my classes and volunteer work I have done more than I ever imagined I could.

My first semester, I was very shy and reserved and talked to very few people. It was getting involved in my first student organization, fighting for a streetlight near Arizona Center, and getting a campus job. I then started to work in advocacy more and have never looked back.

Don’t let anything hold you back, whether it’s income, being first-generation, being a parent, having a disability, being from out of state or out of the country, transferring here, or just thinking you can't make change. I have helped to make change and I am an adult transfer student, first-generation, single mom, low income, from out of state, and none of those labels mattered. You are seen by your fellow students as an ASU student. This is your family! You are surrounded by supportive, loving and intelligent students from around the globe and varying backgrounds. You can make anything possible.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: I love to sit right in front of UCENT and my service/guide dog Austin sits right up there with me. Under the trees in the shade and looking at Civic Space park across the street.

I also enjoy sitting in front of Starbucks with Austin in the shade, me with a coffee or tea and him with his puppuccino.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would create better programming with recreational therapy for students transitioning with disabilities from high school to college or work. So many students with disabilities become lost from high school to college without support or assistance. I was one of those students. I was told I would only be a telemarketer because that’s all someone with blindness in my low economic bracket could do. (Instead) I would get to go to college and better myself. This is exactly what these students are hearing as well.

I am applying to my master’s program to aid in this issue in Maryvale, where many students have no support from high school to college or work. We need to help our next generation to be happy, healthy and independent individuals, increasing their quality of life with support and programs for not just training on social skills, but career skills, and leisure education.

I may not have $40 million, but I will find a way to make it happen and be a changemaker.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


School of Social Work outstanding grad says serving underprivileged populations 'is my calling'

May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Cassandra Peña’s search for a career didn’t end with her finding social work. “Social work found me,” she said. ASU grad Cassandra Pena When it came time to choose a university, there was no question for Cassandra Peña, who grew up in Tempe. "My home was about 10 minutes from the main campus. During Sun Devil football games, I would hear the fireworks ignite, and the fans’ excitement was ecstatic. Also, my grandfather was a huge inspiration that imprinted the ASU culture and higher education in me. I'm a proud Sun Devil, and this has passed down to my children as they have embraced the maroon and gold spirit." Download Full Image

She had started college seeking to work in medicine, taking a few classes along those lines. But, the School of Social Work’s spring 2020 outstanding graduate (graduate student) said she learned it just was not for her.

“I knew I wanted to be in a helping profession; I just wasn't sure what that was,” said Peña, who grew up in Tempe but today lives in Phoenix. “I decided to consult with a career counselor; at that moment, I knew social work was the right career path for me. Once I enrolled in my first social work class, I immediately knew serving underprivileged populations is my calling.”

Her internship at the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service’s Integrated Behavioral Health office has solidified her passion, she said.

“I want to continue to serve the indigenous people,” Peña said. “As a citizen of the Gila River Indian Community, my long-term goal is to be an asset and leader for my community.”

Peña’s advice for new and returning students is simple: Network.

“The advice I would give someone still in school would be to connect with your instructors, program staff, and designate some mentors. By forming these connections, the likelihood is you’ll find internships, jobs and opportunities within the school,” she said. “Also, join a student organization! As a non-traditional student, I’ve learned leadership skills will take you far.”

Peña served as vice president of the American Indian Social Work Student Organization.

She said she’s proud to be a social worker.

“I've established a desire to lead systemic change,” she said, “and because of my education and experience at ASU, I’m prepared to tackle issues impacting vulnerable populations.”

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: My classroom experience at ASU has transformed my general perspective. I bring a unique viewpoint to the classroom. However, I'm amazed by my peers, who have so much to offer in class and the social work profession. I think ASU has unwrapped the willingness to listen to all perspectives, regardless if I don’t always agree. I learned an abundance by being open to understanding the views of others, and by attending ASU, I've flourished my perception.       

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I knew I was going to transfer to a university, there was no question I would choose ASU. It is a piece of my adolescence, as I lived in Tempe. My home was about 10 minutes from the main campus. During Sun Devil football games, I would hear the fireworks ignite, and the fans’ excitement was ecstatic. Also, my grandfather was a huge inspiration that imprinted the ASU culture and higher education in me. I'm a proud Sun Devil, and this has passed down to my children as they have embraced the maroon and gold spirit.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have numerous influential professors and mentors at ASU. The School of Social Work has some fantastic professors! Going back to my undergraduate education, Cynthia Peters and Brett Petersen demonstrated the ethical standards of social work. They helped shape my understanding of the significant role social workers can bring to the table. During my graduate program, Judy Krysik and Kristin Ferguson-Colvin have demonstrated exceptional master-level education with the incorporation of social work values. Equally important, additional instructors­­ and faculty who have mentored my professional development are Christopher Sharp, director of the Office of American Indian Projects, and Miguel Vieyra, associate director for Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives for the School of Social Work. Their guidance has also been instrumental to my success.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to think about life?

A: My favorite spot to study and reflect was the patio area in front of the post office at the Downtown Phoenix campus. When I had time to do this, I would grab some lunch and find a shaded area (you need shade in Arizona) to sit, people-watch and enjoy the view of the grassy area with a great view of the enormous art sculpture, called “Her Secret Is Patience.” A massive amount of my upbringing was in the Downtown Phoenix area. My grandparents lived in a home a couple of blocks from campus and most of our family gatherings took place in this home, and I'm always fascinated with the growth of the downtown area. Most of my reflection is how I’ve come full circle. This specific area is a part of me and engraved in my past. I remember exploring the downtown area when there was no ASU. It’s a surreal feeling!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Homelessness. During my undergraduate practicum, I was exposed to youth homelessness while working at Native American Connections’ HomeBase youth shelter. I have a connection to helping individuals experiencing homelessness. In my work with this population, I learned extensively about the needs associated with being displaced. I attended meetings with community partners and agencies who are dedicated to this work, trying to provide services related to housing, mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, sex trafficking and more. It’s evident (that) homelessness continues to impact many lives. I believe the current system needs adjustment. It’s a bipartisan issue! We have to work together to advocate on behalf of this population and call on our legislators to maintain commitment to ending homelessness.   

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Pandemic shows relevance of data analytics for Watts College outstanding graduate student

May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Sunayna Goel’s decision to pursue a master’s degree in program evaluation and data analytics gained new relevance for her after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. ASU grad Sunayna Goel "One thing I have realized in life is that it is never too late to go to school," said Watts College outstanding graduate in interdisciplinary programs Sunayna Goel, who returned to college after an 18-year gap. "It is never too late to follow your passion, and it is certainly not too late to rediscover yourself. Education is one tool that allows us to do that; it lets us spread our wings and fill new colors in our life." Download Full Image

“(Pursuing) my Master of Science in program evaluation and data analytics (PEDA) was a very natural choice for me because I was always interested in mathematics and data. The various projects in the program where we made inferences from different datasets, e.g. data from IRS, census and traffic, was quite eye-opening,” said Goel, the spring 2020 outstanding graduate in interdisciplinary programs.

“My true ‘aha’ moment is from the COVID-19 outbreak, where data is being generated at a global level and there is a real need to make decisions in almost real time,” she said. “This is where the data science, as a skill, is essential to tackle such complex problems.”

The pandemic gave Goel the chance to reflect on the most important things in life, she said.

“There is no doubt that work, travel, entertainment and social life are important, but so are family, health, kindness, giving and community. It surprised me to find out how little we need to stay happy and healthy,” said Goel, who is from Chandler, Arizona.

“When I saw the community coming together in various ways to help each other in this difficult time, it changed my perspective about life in general,” she said. “Most things around us are temporary, but the relationships we build and acts of kindness towards each other are permanent.”

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU due to its focus on innovation. My husband is also an ASU alum, along with many of my friends, so we are a Sun Devil family. This being an online degree program also helped with my decision. 

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My experience with all the professors and staff members has been extremely positive; everyone has gone above and beyond to drive student success. So, thank you, ASU.

If I have to pick one professor, then I would pick Jesse Lecy, the academic director for my program. Being an online student can sometimes (make you) feel isolated, but Dr. Lecy was always there to assist at any time of the day. It was like being in a classroom setting. For someone like me, who came to college after 18 years of gap, it was not an easy adjustment, but he always made me feel at ease. Thank you, Dr. Lecy, for everything!  

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Education is the best gift you can give to yourself. Being in school at any stage of life is not easy. Things can get hard; it might feel pointless at times, but don’t give up, and stick with it. 

One thing I have realized in life is that it is never too late to go to school. It is never too late to follow your passion, and it is certainly not too late to rediscover yourself. Education is one tool that allows us to do that; it lets us spread our wings and fill new colors in our life. 

In current times where everything is so temporary and fast-changing, I believe education is something that stays with a person and gives us the capability to soar again and again. So, don’t give up, you got this!

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: Sometimes, it gets hard to find a perfect balance between life and studies. Like most human beings, I have also struggled to find my Zen where I can focus and work on my schoolwork. 

I am the type of person who likes the change of scenery. I find myself spending much of my time in my study doing my homework and reflecting upon life. I also find myself in public libraries and coffee shops. Weather permitting, I like to do a lot of my studies outside in fresh air in city parks, my backyard and even in my driveway. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would like to focus on what we are going through currently with COVID-19.  I would like to create a system where the general population from every country can report any type of unusual medical- or health-related issues. This type of system will allow global collaboration at a grassroots level, looking for patterns in health care issues that may be connected. The system will act as an early global warning system for any kind of health-related pandemic to allow for timely action and coordinated response across countries.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Watts College outstanding undergrad's passion for justice, civil rights finds home at ASU

May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Anna Salas believes her life experiences led her to public service. ASU grad Anna Salas Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions overall outstanding undergraduate student Anna Salas said the most important lesson I learned in the classroom at ASU was that knowledge doesn’t always come in the form of a book or lecture approved by institutions — "I found an abundance of knowledge in mediums such as rap music, silent films, hip-hop dance, theater, radio dramas and my personal favorite, Day of the Dead celebrations." Download Full Image

“Ever since I can remember, I have helped my family navigate the world of public administration, from translating documents for my parents to helping different family members go through the citizenship process,” she said.

The spring 2020 Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions overall outstanding undergraduate student grew up in North Las Vegas, Nevada, where she attended Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. She said there she discovered a love for justice and equal rights, following the direction of great civil rights figures.

Salas acted on that newfound passion as a high school student in Odessa, Texas, where she founded a chapter of Amnesty International.

“Through this chapter, my cabinet and I were able to educate my school and town on the Declaration of Human Rights and human rights injustices all over the world,” she said. “We enabled students and teachers alike to engage in these issues through letter-writing campaigns and fundraising activities for the organization.”

Salas said the experiences all led her to decide on continuing a life of service, and she found ASU’s degree program in public service and public policy at the School of Public Affairs “a perfect fit for me, allowing me to continue with my passions and create a positive social change.”

As she was deciding on where to attend college, she said she was “ecstatic” to get a scholarship offer from ASU.

“This was only reaffirmed when I asked my favorite high school teacher what he thought of the university. He told me that it was a fantastic university, his first choice for school when he was my age, actually. From that moment on, it was settled,” Salas said. “I went from not even considering Arizona State University as an option to not being able to imagine going to another university.”

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I think one of the valuable lessons I learned at ASU or otherwise was the fact that college students are not the normal, young, fresh-out-of-high-school students everyone has in mind. In my college experience, I met peers from a variety of different backgrounds. I feel as though Arizona State has prepared me for a complex work environment where I can connect with different individuals. This is because Arizona State University provides its students with a complex variety of connections both in and out of our work environment. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The most important lesson I learned from one from one of my professors at ASU came from Mathew Sandoval at Barrett, the Honors College. His seminar-style course, The Human Event, can be tailored to the professor’s wishes as long as it meets the scope of what Barrett teaches its student body. What Dr. Sandoval taught me was that knowledge doesn’t always come in the form of a book or lecture approved by institutions. Knowledge can also be imparted in other forms not credited with legitimacy because of their rudimentary roots. In his class and under his direction, I found an abundance of knowledge in mediums such as rap music, silent films, hip-hop dance, theater, radio dramas and my personal favorite, Day of the Dead celebrations, all teaching me valuable lessons in life that I would have never acquired through a textbook.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It is OK to not be OK. College is a huge change in one’s life, and sometimes big changes are hard to deal with. Depression, anxiety and imposter’s syndrome are all normal and common feelings college students experience, especially in their first few years. I struggled with these issues, myself, my freshman and sophomore years of college. Being away from home for the first time in an unfamiliar environment truly affected my happiness and mental health. The narrative that college is supposed to be the best years of my life really skewed the perception I had of myself because I believed there must be something wrong with me for not enjoying it as much as my peers. But the truth is, these emotions are common and there are many resources the university can connect you with to help you get through them. It is hard finding one’s place, especially in one of the biggest public universities in the United States — but you are not alone, and once you find your niche, you will find your home away from home.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: As a downtown on-campus student, I would have to say that my favorite spot to study or think about life is the hidden patio on the fifth floor of Beus Center for Law and Society. While the rest of the downtown campus is filled with hustle and bustle, this small outdoor patio offers serenity and peace. It’s a place where you can study for your upcoming public affairs test or just take in the sun and cool breeze of an Arizona spring.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would start a fund to help support service-industry workers in the Phoenix metro area. On March 17, 2020, Mayor Kate Gallego declared the city of Phoenix in a state of emergency. This led to the closure of countless bars and restaurants across the Valley, with the exception of carry-out or delivery. This led to the sudden unemployment of hundreds of individuals. My own home away from home was affected by this. My roommates and I all worked at a downtown restaurant called Chico Malo. It was where we met and where we continued getting our livelihood from. Overnight, our livelihoods were taken away. We didn’t know that the last time we clocked out of work or joked with our coworkers would in effect become the very last time.

I have become the only breadwinner in a household of four, thanks to an internship I am currently working in. However, my roommates aren’t as fortunate. Now we are struggling to pay bills, having to have a difficult conversation with our landlord about rent and the ability to keep a roof over our heads. Having the $40 million and starting a fund would ensure that others like my roommates and I have security in such a dire time. Restaurant and bar staff become like family the more you work with one another; from complaining about ridiculous customers to freaking out when we are out of clean silverware, the bonds formed there are deep. I would like to put forward that money to take care of my work family in our time of need.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU Watts College will pay grad-school application fees for first responders, essential workers

May 5, 2020

Arizona State University’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is offering to pay the application fees for first responders and essential workers who apply for graduate degree programs in May, Dean Jonathan Koppell announced.

Additionally, Watts College is offering several classes pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic this summer and is encouraging students to take advantage of universitywide discounts amounting to hundreds of dollars for certain students enrolling in summer sessions. Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, Arizona State University. Download Full Image

The limited-time application-fee offer applies to first responders and essential workers seeking admission to graduate degree programs in the college’s criminal justice, public affairs, community development and social work schools, as well as in its interdisciplinary programs, including emergency management and homeland security, public safety leadership and administration, and program evaluation.

“We can never thank these first responders appropriately enough for their innumerable acts of dedication and self-sacrifice,” Koppell said. “At least, through this gesture, we hope to be better able to serve them as they expand and augment their knowledge and training for the next stages of their public service careers.”

Overall, Watts College plans to offer 100 graduate-level classes and 132 undergraduate-level classes during the 2020 summer sessions, which begin in late May and continue through early August.

Several three-credit courses pertaining directly to understanding and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic will be offered. They include Public Management and Building Leadership Skills in the Context of a Pandemic in the School of Public Affairs; Criminal Justice Leadership During Unique Events in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice; and Nonprofit Organizational Behavior and Principles of Management in the School of Community Resources and Development.

The college also will present several one-credit courses in COVID-19-related areas, including Navigating Grief during COVID-19; Managing Stress during a Pandemic; and How to Lead During Times of Uncertainty: A Last Lecture Series Featuring Five Influential Leaders. These courses will feature some of the top leaders in these respective fields.

All of these three- and one-credit courses can be available to current ASU students and to students outside of ASU who are interested in learning more about these timely and important topics.

In addition, newly admitted first-year and transfer students and ASU graduating seniors about to enter graduate school in fall 2020 will receive a discount for each three-credit class they register for during summer session 2020. The discount is $500 per course for in-state students and $700 per course for out-of-state and international students.

“These initiatives are designed to help new ASU students jump-start their journeys this summer and let continuing students use the summer months productively," Koppell said. "We’re pleased to help them take control of their educational experience and move ahead on their career paths in public service.”

Learn more: Information on Watts College’s summer offerings. Information on ASU summer sessions.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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ASU School of Social Work pivots quickly to aid Tucson community in crisis

ASU School of Social Work partners with UArizona on helpline for elderly people.
May 1, 2020

Thrive in the 05 program creates helpline, care boxes for vulnerable population

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every kind of institution to quickly change course, but for the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, the pivot has meant switching from one kind of helping to another.

Social work faculty and students from ASU have been working for three years on a program to help an underprivileged community in Tucson. The Thrive in the 05 initiative is named after the 85705 zip code, a 2.5-square-mile area near the city’s urban core that includes Tucson House, a public housing high-rise, and Old Pascua, a community of the Pascua Yaqui tribe.

“It’s a highly vulnerable population and social isolation is an ongoing issue, and now it’s been exacerbated,” said Mary Ellen Brown, assistant professor in the School of Social Work and founder and director of the Office of Community Health, Engagement, and Resiliency at ASU.

“This has heightened the loneliness, and so it was a natural transition for us to respond this way. We’re getting creative in keeping people feeling connected.”

In the two months since the crisis has hit, ASU’s Thrive in the 05 team has ramped up by organizing and training dozens of volunteers to help in the following ways:

• A helpline at 1-833-REACH-AZ to connect people to resources like food and mental health services, and to combat social isolation and loneliness. The helpline targets older adults but is open to all residents of Pima County.

• Helping Hands Care Boxes of household and personal supplies like soap and toilet paper to be distributed once a month at Tucson House.

• Wellness checks and social calls by phone for the Tucson House residents.

• Thrive Resource Café, a Facebook Live event that’s streamed every Tuesday through Friday at noon to publicize the help that’s available from different community agencies, such as how to get economic impact funding or avoid financial scams. The recordings will live on the Thrive in the 05 Facebook page.

“It’s been nothing short of a Herculean effort from a lot of people,” said Brown, who is director of the Thrive in the 05 Community-Based Crime Reduction Initiative.

“We’ve become experts on hotlines and a lot of other things I never would have expected.”

two people packing boxes

Jordan Prather, a first-year Master of Social Work student (left) and Kyle Koch, who is graduating this month with a Master of Social Work, unloaded boxes of donated supplies at the ASU School of Social work office in Tucson on Thursday. The supplies were sorted into care boxes to be donated to the residents of Tucson House as part of the Thrive in the 05 initiative. Photo courtesy of Mary Ellen Brown/ASU School of Social Work

The ASU School of Social Work has had a presence in Tucson for more than 40 years. Thrive in the 05 is a federally funded initiative of the city of Tucson, ASU’s School of Social Work and several local partners that was started three years ago to focus on the Oracle Road/Miracle Mile area. The wide-ranging projects are meant to improve the quality of life through crime reduction, improving distressed housing and boosting businesses.

The first years have involved intensive communication with the area’s residents, with meetings, social gatherings and door-to-door visits. That frequent face-to-face interaction is crucial for social workers to build trust with people who need help, Brown said.

“We’re working to really understand and address the social determinants of health and crime,” she said.

“We started with a lot of listening. It’s very holistic and the residents are the core and the driving force.”

This spring, Brown’s team had just completed a leadership training program for a group of Tucson House residents and was set to begin with the second cohort.

Then, that deliberate, on-the-ground approach was upended. In March, when Arizona residents were told to stay home because of the pandemic, the faculty and students knew they needed to immediately help the community — from afar. Meetings were on Zoom and communication was done over the phone. Quickly, the team started creating the helpline, wellness checks and care box drive.

Many of the residents in Tucson House have disabilities and about 40% are older adults.

Michael Edmonds, who moved to Tucson House last fall, is on the executive committee of the residents’ council there.

“If you can think of it, our residents need it,” he said.

His Tuesdays are spent delivering food to residents, and on other days, he tries to encourage his neighbors to step outside and sit on the benches.

“There are ways to still get fresh air and to socialize, using masks and staying 6 feet away and beyond,” he said.

He said the residents appreciate the efforts.

“Thrive in the 05 is trying to do a lot of things, and they’re giving people hope.”

So far, the wellness check calls have been a positive experience for both the volunteers and the residents, Brown said.

“The volunteers let the residents take the conversation where it goes, and they’ve talked about everything from the loss of a loved one within the past few days to TV shows,” Brown said.

The wellness checks inspired the helpline.

“We’re trying to be a link that people can reach out to before they get to crisis,” Brown said.

The helpline is in partnership with the University of Arizona’s Center on Aging and College of Public Health and the Pima Council on Aging. The council has a phone line that connects older adults to resources like Meals on Wheels, but it’s “cold,” meaning that callers must leave a message and don’t get to talk to a person.

The REACH AZ helpline will be staffed 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and might expand the hours if there’s demand.

“We’ll be a bridge, giving them guidance on where to find resources as well as being able to transfer directly to a crisis hotline if needed,” Brown said.

“We’ll provide a warm ear to actively listen to people’s concerns and struggles.”

Thrive in the 05 has had two trainings for volunteers and is seeking more, especially people who can speak Spanish or other languages, to staff the helpline.

The new actions have been a fast pivot from the long-term support that Thrive in the 05 has been working on and was made possible by the many existing partnerships, according to Katie Stalker, an assistant professor of social work and associate director of the Office of Community Health, Engagement and Resiliency at ASU.

“Business as usual for us is assessing needs in our place-based initiatives, and figuring out how to meet those needs with existing resources or how to find resources to fill the gap,” Stalker said.

“And now we’re still doing exactly that but the focus is different because the needs have changed overnight. But we’re able to reach out to our existing partners in the community where we have that trust, and the cool thing is that we’ve developed more partnerships.”

The team was trying to find face masks for the residents.

“That’s not something we in our office could do, but I was able to reach out to an organization in the community that was sewing masks and I got a phone call that they are ready to deliver 200 masks,” she said.

“The same with hand sanitizer. A local distillery is providing hand sanitizer for our care boxes.”

At the same time the School of Social Work is trying to help the Tucson community, they’re also caring for each other. Students have switched to remote learning and everyone is cut off from the in-person contact they’re used to. Twice-daily check-ins help.

“We keep reminding each other to do what we can and not spend a lot of time making everything perfect,” Stalker said.

“There’s an immediate need and we’ll improve as we go.”

Jordan Prather, a first-year Master of Social Work student, is an intern in the Tucson office. He’s switched most of his work to online but has helped to pick up the food that’s donated on Tuesdays.

“Just once a week seeing the residents again and helping with that has made me feel better,” he said. “And we’ve been figuring out how to do that without putting ourselves or anyone else in danger.”

The daily check-ins have helped.

“It’s been a very supportive atmosphere and that’s been a big part of why it’s felt like an easy transition,” he said.

“This has thrust us into a high-pressure situation but when you see that you can perform well, that’s valuable.”

Brown said the new ways of helping won’t go away.

“We understand that social isolation is actually one of the grand challenges of our profession, and it’s a widespread issue even when there’s not a pandemic happening, so we intend for this to be long term.”


Thrive in the 05 is accepting donations of masks, hand sanitizer, paper goods, toiletries, household cleaning supplies, nonperishable food, bottled water, home electrical supplies such as light bulbs and fans, and entertainment such as puzzles, books and games. Drop off donations at two locations: Academy for Caregiving Excellence, 4723 N. 1st Ave., Tucson, AZ 85718, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday; and Brother John’s Beer Bourbon & BBQ, 1801 N. Stone Ave., Tucson, AZ 85719, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information and volunteer opportunities, email, or call 1-833-REACH AZ (1-833-732-2429, Ext. 3).

Top image of Tucson by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


OLLI at ASU helps hundreds of active adults keep learning, connecting during pandemic

April 30, 2020

Retirees Nancy and Ted Wolter were already big fans of the wide variety of learning and engagement opportunities within the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Arizona State University. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and OLLI at ASU offered knowledge and comfort as the Wolters remained at home.

OLLI at ASU, or Osher as it’s sometimes called, offers noncredit, university-quality learning experiences for adults age 50 and older through diverse classes, engagement with the university and public service initiatives. The 2,500 members — and growing — have fun sharing wisdom, acquiring new knowledge and making friends. Nancy and Ted Wolter, OLLI at ASU, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Nancy and Ted Wolter of Gilbert are lifelong learners at OLLI at ASU. They've found taking classes online while the COVID-19 pandemic has kept them at home to provide comfort, knowledge, engagement and continued connections with fellow learners. Download Full Image

Both Nancy and Ted had long careers in the arts — she at a Valley arts center and he at a college — and they loved continuing to learn by choosing from OLLI at ASU’s extensive class list and engagement beyond the classroom.

Then, when OLLI at ASU recently did what the rest of the university did — transform its in-person courses to online ones in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with no break in engagement — the couple had reasons to be particularly grateful.

Ted took ill upon the couple’s return home to Gilbert from a spring break trip to New York City March 15, forcing them to stay inside.

Lockdowns were not in place when they left on their trip, and Broadway theaters were still open.

“There was no effort to keep people informed. We thought, if we washed our hands and wiped everything, we’d be safe,” said Nancy, a former development director at Mesa Arts Center. Weeks later, Ted’s test results showed he had contracted COVID-19. He convalesced at home, where both quarantined themselves. Nancy also tested positive several days later, saying her mild case gave her a runny nose and cough.

During this time, Nancy joined her OLLI at ASU friends in classes and in her role on its development committee. She said OLLI at ASU was there for her while staying home in ways it couldn’t have been before, as she found her role as a caretaker, home and scared, more manageable because of her connections to those she cared about within Osher.

Today, Nancy says her husband is well enough to rake leaves in their yard, and she is reorganizing shelves. “Just good old quarantine stuff,” she said.

Now, lifelong learning means something even more special to Nancy and Ted, as the preciousness of life has become so apparent. The couple appreciates how OLLI at ASU, along with the community of learners it has fostered over the years, has made a huge difference in their quality of life.

Nancy said since 2017 she has taken 25 in-person classes, learning about topics ranging from Einstein’s mathematical theories to how to pay attention to the needs of others.

For a membership fee of $20 in fall and spring, and $10 in summer, she and Ted have had opportunities to take classes, participate in committees, form interest groups, become involved in the community and more.

Battling isolation is good mental health

Richard Knopf, director of OLLI at ASU, said that the creation of online platforms not only keeps adults ages 50 and older learning during this time of mandatory social distancing, but has also become a means for members to connect with each other in new and exciting ways.

Richard Knopf, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University

Richard Knopf, director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University

Online learning helps reduce the negative effects of social isolation many are feeling while staying at home, said Knopf, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“Distancing equals isolation, and isolation has effects on physical mobility and mental health,” Knopf said. Though this pandemic is new for so many of us, he said he has been researching ways to combat isolation, increase quality of life and foster community for decades with ASU.

Keeping connected, especially today, is important to the Wolters.

“At this time, by God, community is important,” Nancy said. “I get very emotional about the work the OLLI at ASU staff is doing. When they first started letting us know about going online, we had just gotten back from New York, and we didn’t know it was going to be so catastrophic.”

What Nancy said what she and her husband found so touching was the staff’s strong desire to connect people, far beyond merely a transactional experience of paying a fee and getting access to a class. OLLI at ASU learners receive a Community Care Letter every several days with technology tips, resources, pathways to engagement, and activities that have meant so much, she said.

“Of all the organizations I am active in, it was the most responsive, and most willing to get out and tell us what was going on, telling us to please stay involved,” said Nancy, a recent cancer survivor. “It just endears the organization to me.”

Nancy recently sent OLLI at ASU’s program coordinator, Abby Baker, a floral bouquet to thank her for the work she does within Osher, and to let her know she was “seen” during a time when so many feel they’re alone.

Many updates, new class offerings

OLLI at ASU has updated its website to reflect the many recent innovative pivots it has made to shift from in-person activities to virtual connections.

Osher also is gearing up for its summer 2020 semester, offering 74 classes via Zoom on a variety of topics from baseball to gender differences to chemistry to Hollywood musicals. Classes range from lecture-style to highly interactive, including a backyard birding class and a tai chi class.

Abby Baker, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University

Abby Baker, program coordinator, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University 

OLLI at ASU recently established a “Party Line,” Baker said, a 24-hour unmonitored Zoom room where learners can feel free to join to see who else is online and strike up conversations, or to test their computers to make sure Zoom is working properly before their classes.

“We are hoping to start a book club, as well as other clubs, on our Party Line,” Baker said. “We’re encouraging faculty to do ‘Party Line takeovers,’ where they can talk about things such as mindfulness, resilience and online shopping. We’re also starting to see intergenerational programming, like our upcoming ‘Explore the World’ series or our new ‘Lunch and Learn’ series in partnership with the Human Services Campus.”

Baker said the newsletters, called Community Care Letters, go out twice a week to members. “They’re full of hope, resources, connection points, carefully curated news and more,” she said. Click here to view a recent one.

In June, OLLI at ASU will offer over 70 short classes in the digital classroom, and will provide Zoom training and support for members and instructors, Baker said.

Knopf said the National Resource Center for Osher Institutes (the Osher NRC) is celebrating how the OLLI at ASU staff turned dozens of in-person classes into online ones — something now happening at many other OLLIs across the nation. There are 124 OLLIs in 394 cities and towns across America, serving over 200,000 older adults, Baker said, and all of them are affiliated with colleges and universities.

Your brain doesn’t stop

Although their careers have been in the arts, the Wolters don’t confine their educational interests to just the sectors of their “past lives.” They have both taken a class on Einstein’s theory of relativity from an instructor who worked on the particle accelerator in Switzerland. Soon, they’ll be taking another about the events leading up to the Civil War and another called “The Anatomy of American Political Ideologies.”

Nancy said she hopes the OLLI at ASU experience provides its members with more than learning, as it did for her and her husband. In early April, she took an online class on “the magic of mindfulness” that she said helped her feel her brain isn’t going to stop just because she’s staying at home during the pandemic.

“I think in some way, in this whole crisis, hopefully something will bubble up that we will see each other in a connective way, instead of as consuming units,” Nancy said. “I think that’s what OLLI at ASU did, they stepped into the void and said we love you, not because you sign up for our classes, but because we want to connect with you and connect to each other. It was done in such a marvelous way.”

OLLI at ASU’s 'Zoom in June' summer schedule

OLLI at ASU will be announcing a wide array of summer 2020 class offerings on its website at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 6. Registration for membership, just $10, allows members to sign up for classes (a la carte, $14 per session), receive the Community Care Letters, access the Party Line, engage in small groups and more. Summer 2020 classes will be held June 1–30, and membership runs through the first week of September.

To learn more about OLLI at ASU’s “Zoom in June” plans, visit its updated “Online Learning, Leading, and Interacting” web page.

OLLI has updated its website to accommodate the changes that are happening daily within the institute during the pandemic. Click here to learn about the changes. Want to be a new OLLI member? Register here.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU college reaches out to students to hear their pandemic-related concerns

Students personally received phone calls as part of the Watts Care Calling Campaign

April 30, 2020

Hundreds of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions students at Arizona State University recently discovered some unfamiliar numbers appearing on the screens of their ringing phones. But the callers weren’t strangers.

They were volunteer Watts students reaching out on the college’s behalf through the Watts Care Calling Campaign, calling to find out how their fellow students were faring amid challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mauricio Macias, Watts Care Calling Campaign, Arizona State University Mauricio Macias made phone calls to fellow students for the Watts Care Calling Campaign in spring 2020. Download Full Image

Starting in mid-April, 10 volunteers were assigned to telephone as many Watts College students as possible. The goal was simple, but important: to let every Watts student know that their college cared about how they were holding up and if they needed help connecting to available resources. So far, more than half of the approximately 7,000 Watts College undergraduate and graduate students have been contacted. Additional resources have been added to ensure everyone is reached before the end of the semester.

Much happened at ASU in recent weeks that would explain asking. As the COVID-19 pandemic expanded in Arizona, the university successfully pivoted to bring all the spring semester’s on-the-ground classes online.

That gave most students on campus the opportunity to find places to stay where social distancing could be more easily practiced. But it also spread the Watts student body far and wide, meaning friends might no longer be close by to share the ups and downs of new routines, and ASU services usually found around the corner were suddenly more physically distant.

Students Alexia King and Mauricio Macias were part of the campaign’s team of volunteer callers.

Alexia King, Watts Care Calling Campaign, Arizona State University

Alexia King called fellow Watts College students for the Watts Cares Calling Campaign in spring 2020. 

Each was given a list containing students’ contact information and their school affiliation, and a few tips on what to say.

Most students maintained they were doing all right, Macias said.

King said she was surprised to learn that in some instances, concern was expressed in the opposite direction.

“Sometimes they asked me how I was doing rather than sharing how they were doing,” King said. “One volunteered to help make these phone calls, as well.”

Among the most talked about topics were getting and fulfilling requirements for internships while Arizonans have been strongly urged to stay home and not go to work or school. Others had academic advisement inquiries. King said that when students’ concerns became too detailed for her to answer, she would refer them to resources and offices in the college for further assistance.

Macias said he learned things about fellow students he didn’t know before, such as how many had more than one major or minor, or were taking classes on more than one ASU campus.

Watts College event program coordinator Breanna Carpenter facilitated the outreach effort. She said the calls were important for both the callers and the recipients.

“So far, I think it has been amazing,” Carpenter said. “The students have really appreciated the check-in calls and it has created a meaningful experience for the volunteers. I also think that the personal phone call has been a great way for all of our students to feel connected.

The college has previously telephoned large numbers of students during major crises. When Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston metropolitan area in August 2017, the college contacted Watts students in the region, Carpenter said.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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America needs to cultivate a culture of service to solve problems

America needs to provide service opportunities to young people, experts say.
April 28, 2020

Young people need access to opportunities to serve, experts say at ASU event

The current COVID-19 pandemic highlights the critical need for the United States to develop a strong system for young people to engage in public service — much like the Public Service Academy at Arizona State University.

That was a recurring theme of several experts who participated in a virtual panel discussion Tuesday titled “Meeting the Moment: The Next Generation of Service.” The event was sponsored by ASU, the McCain Institute for International Leadership and the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

The McCain Institute was founded at ASU in 2012, said Ben Freakley, a professor of practice at ASU and a senior adviser to the institute.

“In some respects, it’s come full circle to now in this moment, with this pandemic causing us to reflect on our future and the significance of service,” said Freakley, who retired from the U.S. Army after 36 years and is a special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow.

After 2½ years of public hearings and research, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service released a major report called "Inspired to Serve" last month with recommendations on how to create a culture of service in the U.S. Among the report’s recommendations were: revitalize civic education; create a platform to help Americans discover service opportunities; increase the value and flexibility of incentives for national service programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps; establish new models for national service, such as fellowships to support a service year at a nonprofit organization in rural and underserved areas; reform hiring for federal jobs and expand selective service registration for military service to include females.

Crow said that Americans need to embrace the concept that service to the country extends beyond the military.

“Serving our country is not just the defense of our nation, which is necessary but insufficient by itself,” he said. “It’s preparing the people of the country for any eventuality.”

Crow said that the spirit of public service is less focused than it was 80 years ago, during the Greatest Generation, and that reading the Preamble to the Constitution is one way to become motivated.

“‘And promote the general welfare’ is forgotten by many people. It’s the success of the society itself, and you do that by service to the society, not just your individual welfare,” Crow said.

“To me, the argument for national service is the focus on how we will ultimately attain the highest order of outcomes as mandated by the Preamble to the Constitution.”

Crow helped to create the Public Service Academy at ASU, which was the first undergraduate program in the nation to create a collaborative military and civilian service experience when it debuted in fall 2015.

Among the topics discussed at the Tuesday event were:

Creating a culture of service

Steven Barney, former general counsel to the Senate Armed Service Committee and a member of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service: What we’re looking to do is to create the opportunity to build this culture of service. People can’t just stumble into it. That means starting with the youngest Americans and exposing them to leadership opportunities through service. Our vision is that when an individual arrives at their senior year of high school and you ask them, "What is your plan to serve?" they don’t shrug their shoulders.

State Rep. Aaron Lieberman, a Democrat who represents north Phoenix: It happens both informally and formally. Informally, lessons happen in our homes from parents. We see this in our faith communities. But there’s a role for government too. I love the idea of looking at more combined efforts between the military and national service. We see our biggest threats aren’t ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) pointed at us. It’s more varied and might not be military-based.

Think of service careers beyond the military

Lieberman: This is hugely important because one of the key challenges is if we rely only on people who can afford to volunteer, there will be limitations. So there needs to be that opportunity to receive compensation. We just authorized $2 trillion in spending (on the COVID-19 crisis) and to my knowledge, none of it is going toward "How can we get Americans to help with this response?" It would be great if the next COVID-19 package could get Americans on the front lines.

Barney: It’s awareness, aspiration and access. We met with a group of high school students, and part of the discussion was, "Has anyone talked to you about service?" And it was crickets. The idea of going into service was not presented to them. Aspiration is, "How do I use my skills in service that would help the nation as well as be a benefit to me?" And the final point is access. When I was in New Hampshire, I met a woman working with opioid addicts to make sure they were not forgotten. I asked how she became involved, and she said, "I’m a recovering addict, and until this opportunity I did not have a path forward." And when an individual goes into that strip mall recruitment center and learns that there is some aspect in their background that makes them not qualified for military service, there needs to be a warm handoff of that individual who has a heart to serve.

Should national service be mandatory?

Barney: As we talked to people, we came down on the position that the better thing for our nation is to capitalize on the sense of volunteerism that is part of the American spirit. When we said "mandatory" you could feel the walls go up. In their hearts, people do want to serve and if we can build this culture of service, people will have more opportunities.

Inspirations to serve

Sami Mooney, recent ASU graduate who was a member of the ASU Next Generation Service Corps and who now teaches fourth-graders in Teach for America: I grew up in a family that valued public service in different ways. My dad is a small-business owner, and my mother is a special education paraprofessional. I grew up with that philosophy of helping out. In the Public Service Academy and all of those experiences, it was narrowing the lines of my skill set and what social mission was closest to my heart.

Avril Haines, former principal deputy national security adviser and a member of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service: My dad was a science teacher, and one of the questions I was asked every day was, "What did you do today for somebody else?" I did the service that was obvious to me — you have a friend who pulls you into it. It wasn’t until I owned my own bookstore cafe that I started to understand what was happening in my community and I began to see the opportunities.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., a social worker and lecturer in the School of Social Work at ASU: Everyone knows my family story. I went from a middle-class kid to a child who was homeless. What I remember most during those difficult times was the help that others provided to me. The help that people gave to ensure I made it to school every day and that I could see my dreams and future as a real prospect. When it was time to go to college, studying social work was not even a question. It was a duty. And the move from practical social work every day to an elected official was an extension of that. I have a tremendous debt to pay.

Finding satisfaction in service

Sinema: I made it to the place in life I am today because I received the benefits of service. When I say I have a duty and obligation, it’s to repay the debt but the service itself is a gift. There’s nothing more rewarding or meaningful than knowing you’re making a difference in the life of someone else and knowing you are helping them to have access to the American dream.

Mooney: If you connect service and social justice, that’s where you pull people in. People won’t sign up because "I’m going to get certain skills" or "I’ll get a certain amount of money." But if you connect it to other pieces of their life that they care about, that’s where it’s meaningful.

The crisis of civics education

Haines: As (the commissioners) went around the country, even though it was not part of our mandate, the reality is that we talked about the importance of civics education. One of our findings is that if you get a high-quality civics education, you’re more likely to engage in service. Overall, about 25% of students demonstrate proficiency in civics education. The amount of money we spend on civics education is astonishing. It’s about $54 per student on STEM education and about 5 cents for civics. Institutions have a role in training teachers in the content and in promoting it.

Public service in the federal government should be easier

Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions at ASU: Young people who are interested in service and even in government service tend not to be interested in federal service. They gravitate toward local government more than national government. Even those who are interested in the federal government find the system of hiring and internships to be so impenetrable that they have a hard time even decoding it.

Sinema: It makes sense because the federal government is dysfunctional and broken. You can’t blame young people for saying, "I want to work in my community and see the fruits of my labor" or do work globally. It would help if the leaders of the federal government behaved like rational individuals who are focused on solving problems rather than scoring political points. I take issue with people who say to young people, "You should be more focused on serving in the federal government or on voting." What are we offering? We’re offering a broken, dystopian view. It’s up to us to provide a vision of how it should be fixed. One way is to highlight the leadership of those engaged in meaningful work at the federal level that makes a difference in people’s lives.

Haines: There’s a huge attack on federal public service right now. The morale for the federal civilian service is quite low, and it’s not perceived as the most attractive place to work. We do ourselves a disservice with the truly archaic hiring policies we have. We need to shift to a talent management system that’s flexible and recognizes that people don’t think about a 30-year career in one location and that allows people to come in from the private sector. And frankly we need a new generation to come in. We’re at the point where a third of federal employees will retire within the next five years and only 6% of federal workers is in the younger generation.

The pandemic could provide a bipartisan way forward

Sinema: As (Congress has) been working through this series of packages, what you see in the news are the parts that are acrimonious. What is less public is that each of the four packages that Congress has passed have been overwhelmingly bipartisan. I expect as we move forward, we’ll pass another two to three packages and I think there is a real possibility of moving forward on a service-related initiative that will create meaningful jobs for young people and can contribute to the recovery that we need in this crisis. There will be partisanship along the way, but I feel confident that we’ll behave in an appropriate way to resolve these concerns.

Top image by iStock/Getty Images

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now